State’s top teacher says proposed pay raises help make up for lean years

Georgia’s 2020 Teacher of the Year Tracey Pendley (wearing blue in the House gallery) said teachers are thankful for Gov. Brian Kemp including a $2,000 teacher pay raise in the budget presented to lawmakers on Thursday. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

Atlanta Public Schools teacher Tracey Pendley said Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed teacher pay hike for the second year in a row shows a strong commitment to educators.

Pendley, Georgia’s 2020 Teacher of the Year, was among the appreciative teachers crediting the governor Thursday for keeping his pledge to include $2,000 in next year’s budget to complete his promise two years ago to raise their pay by $5,000. Last year lawmakers approved a $3,000 raise that took effect this school year.

The raises, projected to cost about $350 million next year, are now in the hands of House budget writers who now need to finesse sharp cuts across many state agencies and departments. The governor ordered 6% cuts across the board for next year’s budget.

Pendley says the raises are much needed after teachers went 10 years without any statewide pay increase while inflation ate away at their spending power. The fourth-grade teacher and instructional mentor at Burgess Peterson Academy was recognized during Kemp’s State of the State address on Thursday.

“We’re finally making up for lost time and they’re showing us how much they value teachers,” she said after the event.

Representatives of the Georgia Association of Educators and the Professional Association of Georgia Educators said they appreciate Kemp’s salary plans, but also acknowledged that legislators have some tough decisions to make for the raises to survive competing priorities, like a potential income tax cut.

“We’re just grateful the governor is standing by our side and living up to what he promised educators across Georgia,” said Charlotte Booker, president of the Georgia Association of Educators.

Teacher associations plan to continue to work with legislators to protect the teacher pay hike and other education spending.

“It’s going to be important to work with policy makers and help everyone understand that choices aren’t made in a vacuum,” said Margaret Ciccarelli, PAGE Director of Legislative Affairs. “One choice to fund something or not fund something else will have an impact in other areas of the budget.”

Georgia ranked close to the bottom in teacher pay before the $3,000 raise. In a survey conducted by PAGE, 49% of 4,262 teachers who responded said getting the additional $2,000 would influence their decision to remain a teacher.

Kemp’s proposed budget not only includes more money for K-12 teachers, but also some other school staff members. Pre-K and assistant teachers, nutrition workers and bus drivers would also get raises.

The state’s K-12 public education funding formula is also to be fully funded for the third consecutive year after falling as short as $1 billion during some recession-era school years.

The raise will help Georgia keep talented teachers from looking elsewhere, the governor said during his State of the State speech Thursday morning delivered from the Georgia House of Representatives chamber.

“This raise will continue to enhance retention rates, boost recruitment numbers and improve educational outcomes in schools throughout Georgia,” Kemp said.

Cobb County Democrat David Wilkerson said maintaining the current income tax rate is one way to help absorb pay increase teachers deserve.

“I think it’s a great use of funds,” he said.

The raises send the message about the value the state places on teachers, Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods said. Now, he said, the challenge is for the General Assembly to follow through and pass a spending plan that includes the raises.

“The governor’s laid down the challenge and I want to see where it’s going,” he said.

Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.